It was Christmas morning 1986, and my cousin Franc and I were getting ready to do our gift exchange. I had just gotten a brand new Fisher rack system (yep, the one we’ve talked about before). At this time I was firmly ensconced in albums from my newer heavy metal bands like IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST, DEF LEPPARD, CINDERELLA, POISON, etc. as well as my old standby KISS, so I really had no interest in some old band from before then, especially one named LED ZEPPELIN. Come on, now. But to his credit, Franc was relentless. See, he’d been taught about music by the Master, his older brother/my cousin Joey. Joey was the one who handed KISS and JOURNEY down from on high to him, and then Franc to me. So I open my present (an album, DUH!) and there it was…LED ZEPPELIN IV, the album he’d been trying to get me to listen to for months. Sigh…greeeeat. I feigned gratitude and when they left I was busy learning the ins and outs of my Fisher baby.
And sometime around 6 p.m. something, a voice from some magical place whispered in my ear, “Put it on…” I looked around expecting it to be one of my relatives from Ireland who had come to stay for the holidays as was the custom in the Cousins household, but alas, I was alone in the bar room. Not wanting to potentially piss off whatever rock spirit was giving me orders I quickly complied. I had no idea what to expect, and I sure as hell wasn’t expecting much. As soon as I dropped the needle I became acutely aware of how wrong I was…
“Black Dog” is the EPITOME of swagger, Robert Plant’s voice dripping with raw sexuality over John Bonham’s thunderous backbeat and John Paul Jones’ thick bass lines before Jimmy page’s guitar unloads in one of the greatest musical money shots ever recorded. “Rock and Roll” and that riff, that fucking RIFF is the reason most of our heroes ever picked up the goddamn guitar, not to mention it’s one of the greatest drivin’, partyin’, and just havin’ a good time songs ever written, man. Covered by other legends such as HEART and SAMMY HAGAR it is a timeless classic that will hold up long after all of us are dead and gone. English folk legend, the late Sandy Denny, and a stirring mandolin only add to the mysticism of “The Battle of Evermore” One listen and you can feel the chill of the English countryside on an October morning. This of course sets the stage for Le Grande Masterpiece…”Stairway to Heaven”.
Yeah, yeah, I know we’ve all heard it a zillion times, but let’s all go back and think of the FIRST time we heard it. Again, there I was after Christmas dinner, sitting there with an album I had resisted for so long, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the record player in the rack system. Because I knew I was in the presence of absolute greatness. The way it starts out so softly and just builds and builds for eight minutes had me absolutely mesmerized. So I did what any normal person would do: I played it. Again and again and again. And you know what? I don’t care that rock radio has driven it into the ground, because every time it comes on I’m that 13-year old kid again discovering a whole new world. Flipping the record over “Misty Mountain Hop” kicks in with that killer piano, organ, whatever the hell it is Jones is playing that grabs you and never lets go, not even 28 years later in my case. When I was a paperboy, this was my favorite song to listen to from this record on my Walkman because I couldn’t help but haul ass in my deliveries.
“Four Sticks” takes rock, blues, and I don’t know what else and creates a groove not heard before or since, and I don’t think anything like it will be recorded again. Now we come to “Going to California”, another song I loved hearing while riding my bike. It actually saved my ass one day from a patch of ice while on said paper route because Plant’s soft warning of “Watch out” caused me to look down and swerve to avoid a nasty wipeout. It’s like these songs spoke to me on a whole different level than anything I’d heard in my brief time on this planet. Closer “When the Levee Breaks” has some bad ass riffin’ on the harmonica from Plant, and a metronomic heavy-handed performance from Bonham to go with Page’s guitar sliding down the waterfall. Sheer brilliance, this is.
I am so glad that my cousin Franc kept at me and got me to appreciate one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. We actually got to see Robert Plant back in ’88 when he was doing a ton of LED ZEPPELIN songs on the Now and Zen tour and it still stands as one of the greatest nights of my musical life. So there it is, my first taste of the magic that is LED ZEPPELIN. I hope you all enjoyed this journey through my Classic Album and I thank you for taking it with me. ~dc